In a meeting last month with the EU Commissioner on Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, I underscored Albania’s view that the on-going migrant refugee crisis requires a fully coordinated European approach. Solving it must be a top priority as its potential destabilizing consequences are too severe. Albania will contribute accordingly.
Every nation has the sovereign right to control its borders, consider asylum applications, and admit economic migrants. But, every nation has the obligation to provide essential humanitarian assistance to those in distress.
This crisis will continue until violence ends in countries of origin. The more distance between the country of origin and the country of asylum, the less likely a refugee will ever return home. Massive and uncontrolled refugee waves can have long-term negative repercussions. The threat of militants infiltrating Europe is real. Paris was clear evidence.
Albania is sympathetic to the plight of today’s migrant refugees because of our first-hand experience in the early 90’ and the ensuing Balkans crisis. Over a million Albanians have established a new life in Europe. We did shelter an unprecedented wave of displaced fellow Albanians during Kosovo war.
But today’s Europe is different. Nationalistic sentiments are gaining ground and driving policy. These are desperate people fleeing terrible circumstances. Europeans must not stigmatize them, but demonstrate solidarity to help them. Humanism and solidarity must prevail over fear.
Last year, more than a million migrant refugees from conflict zones marched from Greece to EU. These numbers overwhelm the capabilities and resources of Balkan countries astride the transit routes, especially those that are not in EU yet.
We must recognize that as existing routes through the Balkans are blocked, they will seek alternatives, to include transiting Albania to the north or crossing the Adriatic to reach Italy. They are facing our borders.
As citizens of Europe, Albanians will not shy away from their responsibilities or the EU and our obligations to assist those who are in distress. We will take proactive steps, in partnership with EU and our neighbors, to cope with this situation.
Albania is already acting to prevent uncontrolled waves and is cooperating with its partners to increase border control capabilities. We are not building walls.
We must be on guard against the real threat that terrorists will infiltrate through refugee flows in order to enter Europe. We are preparing and strengthening abilities to register and vet individuals who might enter our country, but greater intelligence sharing and law enforcement cooperation and support from the EU are needed. Every transit nation must be able to confirm that war-zone asylum-seekers are really who they claim to be, verify they do not have ties to terrorist groups, and share biometric information.
Only the great powers can resolve this spiraling humanitarian disaster. The US must lead international efforts for a solid and lasting solution in the conflict countries. The EU must intervene to shelter refugees in Greece and Turkey under humane conditions. Desperate people act desperately; violence will ensue if migrants are stranded and lose hope. We are seeing this. Who legitimately qualifies for asylum should receive it as close to home as possible. This will increase the likelihood of their returning home when conditions allow. We salute the recent EU-Turkey accord.
The Balkan nations have common strategic interests. We must act collectively to forge a constructive regional response. The US must remain present and focused in our region as the pivotal factor of security and stability. The EU must not forget enlargement. As EU aspiring members we are committed to a pan-European solution that complies with the international law and addresses the humanitarian requirements of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons.
The current humanitarian crisis must not become a security crisis. A strong demonstration of cohesion and solidarity alongside a firm commitment to peace perspective in conflict zones must prevail over daily political calculations and nationalists gain. Billions spend to manage this crisis, could change the life for millions of people, if invested strategically in peace-building and development projects. Balkans is an example of lessons learned from the past.